The case of a diverted Air France flight involving Paul-Emile Dupret, a legal counselor to the European Parliament, is causing a stir over the Atlantic even though it's not a story in the US. Dupret opposes US policy on globalization, and for that reason, he is on the No Fly List. The case exposes a serious flaw in our national security programs--denying travel to political dissidents. The flight was detoured over the Caribbean and was delayed in Mexico. Many of the passengers missed their connecting flights. European hearts and minds were lost in this small incident.
Some of you believe that if we want to catch the terrorist who wants to blow us up, then all of us have to deal with inconveniences. But let's make a distinction between inconvenience and insanity.
The No Fly List may include suspects of terrorism, but the list also includes political opponents. Flawed or corrupted intelligence undermines our national security -- it makes us Americans look incompetent and/or arrogant.
Other Europeans of Muslim background have been prevented from entering the United States. Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) is a citizen of the UK and was blacklisted. He has been recently cleared to re-enter the United States.
Another high-profile case involves Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar who resides in Paris. His visa to enter the United States was revoked even though the University of Notre Dame offered him a teaching position in peacemaking studies. Both Yusuf Islam and Tariq Ramadan were accused of supporting extremist Palestinian groups. No evidence has undergone the scrutiny of the public eye. Yusuf Islam was cleared recently to enter the United States. Tariq Ramadan's case is under appeal and recently received a favorable opinion by a federal court.
These exploitations of current anti-terrorism laws affect American citizens as well. In October 2008, the Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent political activists as terrorists, and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases, with labels indicating that they were terror suspects. The protest groups were also entered as terrorist organizations. During a hearing, it was revealed that these individuals and organizations had been placed in the databases because of a surveillance operation that targeted opponents of the death penalty and the Iraq war.
I have received several reports of harassment at airports of humanitarian workers or shutting the door on diplomats and scholars. The only common denominator in all these cases is that these individuals have taken stands that are non-violent but are politically controversial. None of their cases involved ties to Al-Qaeda or a connection to 9/11. They were victims of political profiling. For Mr. Dupret , it's about the right to dissent on the policy of globalization.
On a positive note, the Obama Administration is opening up reviews to demonstrate more transparency in its searches and investigations of individuals traveling to and from the United States. Our input is needed.
Yes we all need to be more vigilant and support our law enforcement in protecting our country, and even take off our shoes during airport screenings and cooperate with law enforcement. But to divert planes and stop people from entering the United States because they disagree with our government policies undermines the principles underpinning our open society. If we close our society, terrorism wins.
Our government is concerned about global relations and the US global image. But in the words of Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, "To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate."